Chocolates for Chocolate Week and Autumnal Cheer
The nights are drawing in and there is no escaping the autumnal nature of the weather. It’s also National Chocolate Week so time to get tucked up with a good selection of chocolate.
Halloween Bites from Hotel Chocolat
Hotel Chocolat has risen through the ranks in recent years and is now a well known high street chocolate brand with an innovative range of high quality chocolates that are ethically sourced. Some of their chocolate is grown on their very own Rabot Estate on St Lucia. It is a particular favourite of mine as their house milk chocolate has a high cocoa content of 40% with some of their range going much higher still. With Halloween fast approaching (groan), Hotel Chocolat have produced a range of ghoulish goodies. I was sent a box of Halloween Bites to get stuck into, which I duly did.
There is something for everyone in this box: dark, milk, white, sweet, sophisticated, it’s all here. The menu card, cleverly tucked into the back of the box is suitably creepy. For those on the squeamish side and I count myself amongst that number, the eyeballs are really quite horrific. Luckily not all of the chocolates stare back at you. There are cute little pumpkins much more suited to delicate constitutions or even better, the straight salted caramel and dark caramels.
Salted Soft Caramel – I just couldn’t help myself, I reached for this one first. As regular readers will know, I am in love with salted caramel. I have tried the Hotel Chocolat ones, er, once or twice before, so I knew just how good they are. Liquid caramel with a touch of sea salt which I find to be very well balanced, melts through the milk chocolate giving a burst of exquisite flavour.Soft Caramel – Similar to the salted soft caramel, but made with Hotel Chocolat’s darker 50% milk chocolate. I am a big fan of a darker milk chocolate and find it quite hard to source, so was delighted with this.
Oozy Eyes – White – Filled with a sweet red gory caramel which seemed to have a slightly fruity flavour, these eyeballs were nothing if not grotesque. Kids will love them.
The Crystal Skull – A large piece of milk chocolate full of cherry flavoured crystals which I found quite delicious, both in texture and flavour – that is, as long as I kept my mind well away from the thought of crunching on skull bones. This was very cleverly done.
Artisan du Chocolat No 1 – Sea Salted Caramels
I had the joy of sampling these sea salted caramels from Artisan du Chocolat at a food bloggers conference in Birmingham a couple of years ago and they have lived on in my memory ever since. When I was offered a 130g box from The Handpicked Foodstore to review, I nearly bit their hand off. These caramels are darkly sophisticated and utterly delicious. They are quite small in size and come in a substantial reusable tub presented in a simple, elegent box – maybe their stylist is Cocoa Chanel. A dark chocolate shell, coated in cocoa powder contains a liquid caramel that is slightly salted and full on in flavour. The salt used is a grey sea salt harvested by hand from clay marshes in the Vendée, just south of Brittany and is reputed to be full of beneficial micro nutrients. I was fascinated to learn about the Island of Noirmoutier, where the salt is harvested. I am now keen to visit and walk the three mile causeway to the island which can only be done at low tide. Invented by Gerard Coleman for Gordon Ramsay at Claridges in 2003, these artisan chocolate caramels set the scene for the many sea salted caramels that followed them.
The Handpicked Foodstore is an online delicatessen delivering fine foods sourced from small artisan producers, mostly from the UK. If the chocolate section is anything to go by, I can vouch that this statement is true; a range of chocolates from Rococo, Montezuma and Artisan du Chocolat are on offer. A 130g tub containing approximately 24 sea salted caramels costs £13.50. These are not an every day chocolate, but one of these caramels goes a long way and they are well worth considering for gifts and special occasions. Are you listening CT?
Chocolate and Love
There is a new bar in the Chocolate and Love range – a single origin dark chocolate bar. I was sent one of these, together with a Crushed Diamonds to try, another intriguing offering. I have reviewed a couple of Chocolate and Love bars before and been impressed with their quality. The ingredients are both fairly traded and organic, which already puts them ahead of the pack. Interestingly, neither bar contains lecithin, soya or otherwise, so I wonder why this is such a common ingredient in so many other chocolate bars. I am particularly taken by the design used for their chocolate wrappers, which are inspired by the jungle in which the cocoa beans are grown. Further information about the bar and the cocoa growers can be found on the reverse side along with pictures of some of the growers and producers. As before, I was rather disappointed to find the inner wrapper was still plastic; for me, this does not represent the high quality of what is found inside and I feel, does it a disservice.
Panama (80%) – cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, ground vanilla
It always surprises me just how different chocolate can taste. As a single origin chocolate, the terroir as well as the type of bean and production techniques plays a part in the unique flavour profile. The beans used for this chocolate are the finer varieties of Trinitario and Criollo. For an 80% bar, I was surprised at how little bitterness there was. In fact it was quite moreish, which is unusual for very dark chocolate. It had a very smooth mouthfeel with notes of coffee and a hint of citrus.
Crushed Diamonds (55%) – cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole cane sugar, milk fat, roasted cocoa nibs, ground vanilla
What a fabulous name for a chocolate bar, for surely chocolate is the diamond of the food industry. Not surprisingly, this tasted quite sweet after sampling the Panama. CT noted a subtle and very pleasant pear drop flavour to it. The cocoa nibs, however, provide a note of contrasting bitterness as well as texture; this is less of a chocolate to melt slowly and voluptuously in the mouth and more one to crunch with gusto.
Baileys Chocolat Luxe
Oh boy, there is not much I can say about this other than one sip and I was hooked. In fact one sniff of the heady aroma of chocolate and alcohol and all restraint was abandoned. Warming, soothing and velvety, this is the ideal antidote to those autumn blues. The flavour of chocolate and whiskey slowly inveigles itself from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat and everywhere in between in a most delightful way. I started with a small glass and very quickly progressed to a second. CT, who has always been a secret Baileys tippler was equally enamoured of this chocolate version. “They say Guinness is good for you but Baileys Chocolat is better”, quipped CT. As it turned out, he found it to be excellent medicine for the autumnal cold he picked up.
The serving suggestion is to pour over ice, but we prefer it neat. It would of course be delicious over ice-cream and if I can hide it from CT and his spurious “for medicinal purposes” claims, I have some interesting ideas for using it in Christmas baking.
Just out, this chocolate in a bottle has taken three years in the making. After 839 attempts at getting a perfect blend of whiskey and Belgian chocolate, Anthony Wilson, the son of the original Baileys Irish Cream creator, finally cracked it. Baileys Chocolat Luxe (15.7%) is now available at £16.99 for a 50cl bottle. Try not to drink it all at once.